A fictional imagining of a survivor.
[Image shows the actual clothes Dorothy wore upon her rescue, which she then donned to film Saved from the Titanic. Sourced from Wikicommons.]
Dorothy froze. The white silk dress draped over the director's forearms poured lead into her stomach and jelly into her knees. She wobbled and threw out an arm to balance herself. A cool breeze brought a real-life nightmare with it for company. Mistaking her outflung limb for acceptance, Arnaud shoved the limp, stained fabric into her hands. Simultaneously, Dorothy flinched backward and clenched her fists.
"Easy," Arnaud warned. "It's damaged enough, already."
Dorothy barely registered his absurd words, for her mind had zeroed in on the horrors of a mere five days prior. Instead of dark studio with pinpricks of startling brilliance from the spotlights, night-black waves and winter stars surrounded her. Even now, the ice in the air scratched her throat and burnt its way down to her lungs. Every muscle in her body clenched, spasmed. She couldn't do this. Not now. Not ever. What had possessed her to believe this madness could help?
A lazy stay in Italy with dear mother, before boarding the world famous Titanic: the unsinkable masterpiece of engineering, and boasting the fastest Atlantic crossing of all time. A peaceful sea, and refined passengers for company on the elegant upper decks. An idle game of bridge after a sumptuous dinner … what could be better than such a life? At just 22, Dorothy faced a future of fame and acclaim, and—surely—the tragedy she'd only recently survived meant the universe owed her something?
The orchestra played, glasses tink-tinked, and gentle laughter and camaraderie lulled the unsuspecting passengers into false repose. A sudden jerk and cacophony of—something—dragged along metal, and calm returned. For a short while. The noise had sounded like a long, drawn, sickening crunch. Friends and acquaintances shared nervous glances and chuckles and the odd "oh my". Not until the ship's alarm alarmed did anyone give the brief disturbance a second thought. By then, of course, it was far too late.
Dorothy's lady's maid hurried to the bridge table—long, pocketed, knit cardigan and life vest in hand. Just the sight of the garments brought goose-bumps to Dorothy's flesh, for which the soft, thin silk evening dress no longer felt remotely adequate or sensible. After a self-conscious peep at her table companions, Dorothy suffered the nonsense of donning a knitted cardigan over her glamorous attire. All the other ladies suffered the same indignity, increased by the addition of the fat, unflattering life jackets.
"A false alarm, I'm sure," came from Mabel. And Dorothy agreed. Such stuff and nonsense over not much to do, she felt certain. For heaven's sakes, even the orchestra kept on playing, and here came their sommelier to take drink requests. Obviously, things couldn't be quite so dire.
To the wine waiter, Dorothy enquired, "Can they not turn off this darned alarm?"
The sommelier bowed. "I'll look into it, Madam."
All around, the peaceful atmosphere had detonated into muffled fear and ruffled feathers. A never-before-experienced claustrophobia overtook Dorothy and constricted her ribs and torso far more severely than the ridiculous life vest. Irritable, she tugged at the ties, but Mazy had done them up too well. At her side, the maid bobbed in a shockingly shallow curtsey and tugged at her mistress's elbow. "Please, Ma'am. They say we're to go out on deck."
Conflicted needs pulled at Dorothy's awareness—the desire to stay in the warm, comfortable opulence of the lounge versus the visceral need to escape and suck air into her pinched lungs. She pursed her lips, gave a curt nod, and allowed Mazy to lead her up the stairs, which crowds thronged to capacity in good-natured patience. Loud male voices sought to reassure, cajole, ridicule, and promise to complain to management once they'd reached American shores. Because, this was of course, a completely unacceptable manner in which to treat their well-bred customers.
Out on deck, the freezing air hit her full force and Dorothy staggered with a gasp of shock. She wrapped her arms around herself and stared about wildly, desperate to make some sense of the chaos which greeted her appearance. Ahead and behind, the deck showed a sharp list. She forgot to breathe. After what seemed an eternity, Dorothy sucked in air and stared wide-eyed at Mazy. "Mother. We have to find Mother."
Dorothy spun away and took a staggered step back in the direction of the upper-deck lounge. Just then, a steward led a vest-clad older woman out onto the deck while she badgered the man with loud protestations.
"Mother? Oh, thank God." Dorothy rushed to the woman's side, and her mother quieted long enough to hug her daughter. Then the haranguing started again, "What's happening? What's all this nonsense? Dear, please—"
Dorothy led her mother back toward the crowd in front of the lifeboat, which passengers had begun to board. "Let's do as they say," she told the frightened older lady. "I'm sure it will all be resolved momentarily."
All around, seamen yelled and shouted to one another, while officers called to passengers to "line up, line up … this way, Ma'am … women and children first, Sir … line up, line up … this way, please …"
Jogged along in a quietly frenzied crowd, Dorothy and Mazy found themselves herded toward a lifeboat, which swung alarmingly on thick ropes, which dangled from metal struts high above. Sobs and whimpers topped the waves like white-caps of distress amidst the chilling night. A frightened glance over the side showed small ice floes and an impossibly black, undulating ocean. Suddenly, the Titanic felt weeny and undersized. How far from land were they?
The large, black number seven on the side of the waiting boat seemed an omen of doom rather than a miraculous rescue. Large, calloused hands grabbed at Dorothy and hauled her aboard. At the edge of the gunwale, they let go, and she stumbled to her knees and bashed her hands against a low wooden bench. A couple of heavy thuds and soft cries from behind signalled her mother then her maid had joined her in similar fashion. More bodies arrived, and the uncomprehending women clambered away from the incursions and toward the rear of the small craft.
Disbelief enveloped Dorothy when a uniformed officer leapt into the bow of the boat and ordered, "Number seven away!" The lifeboat jerked and lowered, stopped, jerked once more, and lowered another few feet.
"Wait," Dorothy said softly, breathless with fear and apprehension, yet bolstered with indignation.
The officer glared at her over the heads of the other passengers—some of whom grumbled at her for holding up their descent.
"We're barely even half full. We can't go yet …"
Her courage held its breath and curled in on itself, foetal and vulnerable. She was on her own here. At a whisper, she said, "It's not right," and shook her head. Into the tense silence which had fallen, the officer gave the command, "Take us away."
The sea landing happened with a splashing roar and thrice-bounced jerks. Shock waves jolted up Dorothy's spine from her coccyx and all the way to the base of her skull. Her jaw dropped open and snapped shut, and her teeth jarred together painfully. Sharp pain followed by the metallic taste of fresh blood warned her she'd bitten her tongue. Organised chaos took over after an initial pause, and sailors grabbed oars and rowed, rowed, rowed. The officer caught Dorothy's stare and told her, rather woodenly, "We have to get as far away as we can before she sinks. … The pull will drag us under. … You understand." It wasn't a question, and she did understand, but still the lifeboat was too empty. How many seats remained for how many lives that would be lost?
Relative peace ensued while the rowers bent their backs to their work, and the odd high wave slapped the craft backward until a new swell helped propel them forward. The shadowed figures on each shared bench snuggled together for warmth against the insidious bone-numbing chill, which crept upon one with the cunning stealth of an arctic wildcat. Somewhere from the middle of Lifeboat Seven, a woman gave a gasp, and her knees lifted into moon-silvered view when she raised her feet from the bottom boards. The officer pushed his way through with stern lines of strain creasing his cheeks and eyes. Just then, a seaman at the stern called out, "The gunwale's too low. We're taking on water."
A stunned hush didn't have the chance to fall, as the man's words were met with outcries of dismay, disbelief, and a chorus of "Oh my God, save us, please." Frantic, heart hammering and knocking at the doors of both throat and chest, Dorothy cast her gaze toward the commotion. Unable to see, she eased to her feet, and the boat rocked roughly. An unknown hand grabbed her upper arm and yanked her back to the bench with a hiss of, "Careful. You'll have us capsized."
In those brief couple of seconds, Dorothy had seen enough. The lifeboat had a hole in the middle. Had they hit something when they'd jettisoned away from the Titanic? Panic wrapped its icy fingers around her throat, her temples, and closed in a vice of pain and inability to think or move or feel. The heavy, suffocating cloak of night settled ever more heavily onto her slumped shoulders. They would all die. The ice in both air and water made it all too clear how quickly hypothermia and death would take them, especially dressed as the women were in their pretty yet useless silks.
A rough man's voice said, "We 'ave to plug t' hole."
The officer's head whipped toward the sailor. He gave the guy an appraising look and cast his eyes around the huddled, damp, dispirited passengers. His Adam's Apple bobbed over a deep swallow, then he squared his shoulders and set his jaw in a firm line. "We need to plug the leak. Ladies, you have under-skirts and the like. Rip them out. We can wad them up to make a bung."
Initial murmurs of outrage and shock responded, but died quickly once Mazy—dear, dear Mazy—struggled to a crouch, reached under her wide maid's skirt, and tugged. At first, nothing gave, and then the long sound of ripping cotton overlaid the rhythmic slap-slap of the waves. Another mighty heave, and she held her arms high, with her cotton skirt flapping in the stiff breeze in front of her triumphant, animated face. "Will this do 'ee, Sur?"
A hint of a smile softened the officer's countenance momentarily, and he nodded. "Let's see, shall we?"
Eager hands passed the wadded cotton forward. Under cover of darkness and the distraction of the new activity, more undergarments found themselves liberated and handed toward the middle of the craft. While two sailors worked at stuffing the breach, another man at the stern bailed the water with a bailer which struck Dorothy as far too small for the urgent task at hand, and the others rowed for all they were worth.
The twenty to thirty minutes which followed were taut and tortuous. Both silent and frenzied with the whirr of unvoiced terrors and supplications for salvation. Eventually, the bubble of incoming water slowed then ceased. A subdued cheer went up from seamen and passengers alike. Eventually, the officer blew his whistle and ordered an "all stop". Apparently it was time to sit and wait.
The waiting was the worst of it. The having to sit in the isolated lifeboat and listen to the distant cries and screams of the drowning, the dying, the desperate. The not being able to do a single thing to save those poor, suffering souls. Tears slid silently down Dorothy's cheeks and froze her eye lashes. Somebody found blankets and draped one around her shoulders, but she had neither the energy nor the will to even blink in acknowledgment.
What could have been days later, but was probably a matter of hours, rescue ships arrived in response to the Titanic's mayday broadcasts. Crafts went in search of survivors, of which there were distressingly few, and the handful of survivors were taken to waiting boats of safety. On the Carpathia, Dorothy and her twenty-some companions were given hot tea, food, and dry blankets, and asked their names and societal rank. It appalled Dorothy greatly that one's social status could hold any relevance at a time like this. Before her rapid rise to stardom in the silent movies, she'd been just a normal girl from the smog of London's streets with nobody but her family to know or care anything of her.
Now, it seemed, the whole world wanted to see her story. Live her amazing escape. Force her to enact it just a week after the tragedy of that fateful night. With a shudder, Dorothy accepted the horrific memento that was the white, silk dress from the bridge game and staggered to the changing room. Behind her, Arnaud encouraged, "Saved from the Titanic … It'll be the most epic movie of all time. You won't regret this."
Author's Note: **According to reports, Dorothy gave up acting shortly after the movie was released and pursued a Choral Career. Saved from the Titanic was Gibson's final film, as she reportedly suffered a mental breakdown after completing it.**
[Author Note 2: Please be aware, I am a British English writer and follow British spelling, grammar, and punctuation conventions, which some non-British-English readers may not be used to. Please rest assured, these are not mistakes but simply a different way of doing things. Thanks so much for reading my story and for all your support! All the best, Harmony :) ]
About the author
Harmony Kent began writing at 40 after a life-changing injury. An avid reader & writer, Harmony also offers reviews and supports her fellow authors.
You can find Harmony at https://harmonykent.co.uk
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Original narrative & well developed characters
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